Princeton University engineers have developed a new technique for producing electricity-conducting plastics that could reduce the costs of manufacturing solar panels.
The plastics offer a low-cost alternative to indium tin oxide, an expensive conducting material currently used in the panels, according to the researchers. Translucency and malleability properties also are good.
Conductive polymers have been around for a long time, but processing them to make something useful degraded their ability to conduct electricity, said Yueh-Lin Loo, associate professor of chemical engineering at the university in Princeton, N.J.
She added: We have figured out how to avoid this trade-off. We can shape the plastics into a useful form while maintaining high [electrical] conductivity.
The research holds promise for producing new types of electronic devices and new ways of manufacturing existing technologies.
People didn't understand what was happening, said Loo, who led the research team and co-wrote the paper. We discovered that in making the polymers moldable, their structures are trapped in a rigid form, which prevented electrical current from traveling through them.
Loo and her colleagues developed a way to relax the polymer structure by treating it with an acid after the polymers were processed into the desired form. The researchers were then able to make a plastic transistor using a low-cost printing technique.
Loo said the technique could potentially be scaled up for mass production: This is a big deal. You could distribute the plastics in cartridges the way [inkjet] printer ink is sold, and you wouldn't need exotic machines to print the patterns.
The Princeton findings were published online in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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